Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?
Many people still call marijuana a gateway drug. Not just everyday people either. We’re talking about our political leaders.
Back in 2015, New Jersey governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie said that he was against marijuana legalization and would like to see a federal crackdown on states like Washington and Colorado.
His reasoning? “Marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said.
Even more recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that marijuana is only “slightly less awful” than heroin, dismissing the notion that marijuana could effectively combat opioid addiction (we’ll tackle this subject a little bit later in the post).
If high-profile government officials still don’t believe in the medicinal value of marijuana, it’s no wonder that people still call marijuana a gateway drug.
But is that even true? Is marijuana a gateway drug?
We at Dr. Green Relief believe in giving patients the information they need so that they can decide whether or not medical marijuana is right for them. We also believe that calling marijuana a gateway drug is not only wrong; it’s potentially harmful.
- Politicians who believe that marijuana is a gateway drug create and maintain laws that make medical marijuana consumption illegal, depriving many worthy, qualifying patients of necessary treatment.
- Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, qualifying patients may refuse to consider medical marijuana as a viable treatment because they’re afraid it will somehow lead them down the road to cocaine/heroin/meth addiction.
So if marijuana isn’t a gateway drug, how did this myth become so popular? Where did it even come from?
The Origin of the Gateway Drug Theory
In the 1970s, the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded a study conducted by Dr. Denise Kandel of Columbia University. The institute wanted Kandel to find evidence that marijuana use led to harder drug use.
It was Kandel who eventually coined the term “gateway drug.” But when she did so, she wasn’t talking about marijuana.
Kandel was only supposed to study the effects of marijuana, but she expanded her research to include nicotine and alcohol.
It’s a good thing she made that choice.
She found that young people typically use legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco before using marijuana.
Furthermore, Kandel concluded that nicotine is the true “gateway drug; its effect on the brain actually “primes” the brain for harder substances like cocaine.
If this is all news to you, it’s probably because anti-marijuana propaganda has been extremely effective at ignoring/burying this information for decades. However, the truth is starting to come to light
Nicotine and Alcohol: the “Real” Gateway Drugs
Last year, the Washington Post reported a study conducted by the University of Florida and Texas A&M.
The study focused on teenage drug use. 12th graders were asked, “What was the first drug you ever tried?” Here were the results:
- Alcohol: 54%
- Tobacco: 32%
- Marijuana: 14%
These findings are similar to Dr. Kandel’s study on gateway drugs. Not much has changed in four decades.
But Aren’t Marijuana Users More Likely to Use Harder Drugs than Non-Users?
Yes, that is true.
But it’s important that we make a distinction between correlation and causation.
Correlation means that two events are connected to one another.
Causation means that one event actually causes the other event to occur.
When anti-marijuana groups call marijuana a gateway drug, they’re suggesting that there’s something about marijuana that makes people want to try harder drugs. Take away the marijuana, and supposedly, fewer people will use more dangerous substances.
But there’s no evidence that this is the case. In fact, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences debunked this theory back in 1999 – which goes to show you how stubborn and persistent the theory is.
Although people who use marijuana are more likely to use harder drugs than people who’ve never used marijuana, that doesn’t mean marijuana makes you want to try those drugs.
A Simple Analogy
Look at this way: children who play with toy swords are probably more likely to grow up and become sword-fighting instructors than children who never played with toy swords.
In other words, if you asked a sword-fighting instructor, “Did you play with toy swords as a child?” the answer will probably be “Yes.” You’d have a difficult time finding a sword-fighting instructor who never touched a toy sword as a kid.
But that doesn’t mean that toy swords are a gateway to becoming a sword-fighting instructor.
We’re willing to bet that most children who play with toy swords don’t become sword-fighting instructors.
Here’s the question we really need to be asking: do the majority of people who use marijuana typically go on to use harder, more addictive substances?
- A little less than half of all Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana
- Less than 15% have used cocaine
- Less than 2% have used heroin
Does it still seem reasonable to call marijuana a gateway drug? Because if it were true, there would be far more people using cocaine and heroin in this country.
But there aren’t.
Socioeconomic factors, mental illness/trauma and genetics play a far more pivotal role in determining whether someone might become addicted to drugs – more so than whether or not they’ve used marijuana.
So Is Medical Marijuana 100% Safe?
People can and do abuse medicines of all types. Marijuana is no exception. Part of our work is to ensure that our patients use medical marijuana in a safe and responsible manner.
Context is everything. For example, the coca leaf has been used as a natural medicine for thousands of years; it’s only when it’s processed and turned into cocaine that it becomes something extremely dangerous and addictive.
The irony is that there’s currently an opioid epidemic in America, and yet, from a legal perspective, it’s easier for patients to get an opioid prescription than it is for them to get medical marijuana!
And although Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes marijuana is only “slightly less awful” than opioids, the evidence suggests otherwise. You can fatally overdose on opioids. It is virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana.
Marijuana Could Help Fight Opioid Addiction
A small group of addiction specialists and pain doctors are using medical marijuana to help transition their patients away from harder substances, like opiates.
Studies suggest that cannabinoids can help reduce opiate withdrawal symptoms. Another fact to consider is this: fewer people die from opioid overdoses in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Now it’s only fair to say that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.
But the research looks promising, and if marijuana can help people overcome opioid addiction, it could literally change millions of lives for the better.
Unfortunately, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, meaning that the federal government doesn’t recognize marijuana’s medicinal value. Until the law changes, it will be difficult to conduct the kind of research necessary to verify these claims.
A Gateway to Healing
For decades, marijuana has been stigmatized by the political, medical and media establishments. Calling marijuana a gateway drug has been right up there with the “Just Say ‘No'” campaign.
Thankfully, our country is undergoing a massive cultural shift. Most Americans now support the legalization of medical marijuana.
Rather than being a gateway that leads to drug addiction, marijuana has the potential to lead patients into a pain-free, addiction-free and anxiety-free way of life. We only need to question the “War on Drugs” propaganda that we’ve been exposed to for so many years. Then we’ll be able to see what’s right in front of our faces: a truly beneficial, medicinal plant.
Do you qualify for medical marijuana use in Florida but have safety concerns? Feel free to give us a call, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. And if you’re ready to apply for a medical marijuana card in Florida, schedule an appointment today!